Recently, a good friend of mine had her daughter move overseas to work with Muslims in a country that’s stable and prosperous at the moment, but is ringed by those that aren’t. My friend has never been overseas herself. I give her until the first grandchild before she learns the ways of international airports, long layovers, lost luggage and bittersweet reunions–bittersweet because you know the reunion will be short-lived. She’s excited for her daughter on the one hand, but on the other she is simply sad.
Often as Christians, we feel guilty for sadness. We think it’s only appropriate if it’s “righteous”–i.e. a sadness about our own sin or someone else’s. How could she feel sad that her daughter was going to share the gospel with people who might otherwise never hear it? I could practically see the argument going on in her head.
Image courtesy of: Family Vacation Critic
Before we went overseas, I was sad too, not to mention nervous and scared and excited. I had ALL the feelings. I was sad that my children would grow up not knowing their grandmother. I was sad at all the things they’d miss–trips to the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas, crisp falls and cold winters and rainy, colourful springs, picking fresh berries in the summer, a feeling of rootedness and connectedness with life-long friends and memories of place.
It was February 2001. We were staying in church housing, a tiny apartment furnished with other people’s cast-offs from the 70s and 80s. We had just sold our house, the first house I ever owned and where we had lived for the longest I had ever lived in one house in my life–6 years. (That record still stands). I had no idea I could be so attached. I loved the way the morning light came into the dining room. I loved the porch, and the deep blue hydrangea bush next to it. My children (3) were all babies in this house, and I had so many memories of sleepy babies and crying toddlers; of one boy running straight off 5 steps up to the porch just to crash-land on the concrete sidewalk below (he’s always believed he could fly); of the time we painted the entire living room and dining room over a weekend just because we’d invited the pastor and his wife for dinner and then, 3 days beforehand, knocked over a bottle of wine that stained the wall; of first Christmases and first birthdays and first steps and first words and the time I found my toddler eating cat food with a sterling silver serving spoon. So. Many. Memories. I was crushed under the weight of them, sitting on an ugly plaid couch staring, unseeing, at a solid oak coffee table, drinking coffee from an ugly mug with pink cats on it, my own mugs either sold at garage sales or packed carefully into suitcases.
I was reading through the Bible that year, I remember. And I was at the end of I Chronicles, after David takes the census and God punishes him by sending a plague on the land for 3 days. It’s towards the end, and David looks up and sees the angel with a flaming sword drawn and then sheathed, and he falls down in worship and decides to build an altar right there. He offers to buy the land from its owner, Ornan.
Ornan said to David, “Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I will give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for the grain offering; I will give it all.” 24But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”
I stopped right there, overwhelmed. Sacrifices are supposed to cost something. They aren’t supposed to be fun and easy–that negates the term. It’s not that I didn’t know that, but it hit me anew. I will not offer to the Lord sacrifices that cost me nothing. It cost me something to kiss my widowed, elderly mother goodbye and get on that plane, knowing that I would probably never live near her again. (I didn’t) It cost me something to raise my kids in a place where you literally could find nothing to give them for birthdays and Christmases, where my eyes craved green in a land of dust and shades of tan.
We are often uncomfortable with this concept. Our pastor is fond of pointing out that we actually can offer nothing to the Lord, and he thinks it’s unhealthy and prideful to point to our own sacrifices. I do see his point, but I think the whole matter is deeper and more subtle. When our children make us sloppy valentines or mother’s day cards covered in crooked writing and kisses, we don’t say, “You know, I bought that paper and the markers you used. This is really from me. You contributed nothing.” Instead, we hug them and our hearts overflow, and we make sure that card stays in our possession. I still have a loving note my daughter once wrote me on toilet paper! It’s carefully preserved in a box and has lasted through several moves both international and domestic.
There is a sweetness in saying to God, “This is not what I want to happen, but I offer it to you because I love you, because you are my God and you have given all to me.” Whether that be a decision to submit to our husbands (who are wrong!) in obedience to God, a decision to give up a relaxing evening home (which we really deserve–we are far too busy, right?) to visit a neighbor who down deep is lonely and afraid, or even a decision to send our kids far from home and family with a smile like my friend did, when we deliberately give our choices to God, he responds. How? I think in the very best way–by letting us know that he loves us and is pleased with us. There’s a closeness that comes out of consciously telling God, through our thoughts and actions, that we love him and want to please him and be close to him. Paul tells us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices.” (Rom. 12) Like a mother whose child who is offering her bouquet of dandelions from the lawn, God responds with joy to our offerings for him, no matter how big or how small.
I think using the language of sacrifice can be helpful and can deepen our walk with God. He is the only one who is worthy of our praise, and we can show him that by consciously giving him what we are and have throughout our days. And we can come with a child-like confidence that our offerings won’t be scorned for their meagerness but will be accepted with joy and love.